Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The end of made to order meals at restaurants

I've found this very interesting piece called "Haute cuisine? More like boil in the bag" from the Daily Telegraph about the end of made to order meals in restaurants. Their focus is mostly on France but I bet it applies to a majority of countries. According to the author, it is now commonplace to be served reheated ready-made food straight from vacuum sealed bags at many restaurants in Europe.

According to an investigation by the newspaper France Soir, the days when a Gallic chef could boast of 86 different ways to make an omelette are fast disappearing.

Instead they are turning to frozen vegetables, ready-made dishes and sauces delivered in cartons - some of them supplied discreetly by an arm of a British "pub grub" caterer.

Restaurants may give the impression that their leg of lamb is fait maison (made by the house) when in fact all the chef has done is remove it from a bag and heat it up, said France Soir.

Many younger chefs, it claims, would now struggle to produce standard fare such as a sauce Béarnaise or even straight-forward vol-au-vents.

To add to the dismay of food purists, more than a dozen traditional techniques - including how to truss a chicken, open oysters and prepare artichoke hearts have been dropped from the national cookery qualification, the Certificat d'Aptitude
Professionnel. Instead trainees are tested on their use and handling of processed, frozen, powdered or pre-prepared foods.

To be honest, I don't know what to think about this industrialization of the restaurant business. This is not an entirely new phenomenon: fast-food chains have done exactly the same thing for the last 50 years and most restaurants keep ready made sauces at hand in the freezer or even more simply in a bain-marie. I think most of the outcry comes from food enthusiasts who are able to detect the smell of the industrial kitchen on their plates and from those advocating for a less industrialized (and homogenized) approach to food. In that sense, I certainly see a problem with these trends especially since low prices for acceptable but homogenised industrial food might put out of business the true and sincere artisans whose product, I believe, would almost always be of greater quality and contributing to culinary diversity.

On the other hand however, we should not forget that these techniques allow a certain democratization of the dining experience. Not all of us have the money to eat out in good restaurants who themselves are able to hire experienced cooks. I live in a city where good restaurants are scarce and expensive and I would certainly appreciate the possibility to indulge in standardized but good food at a reasonable price once in a while. As for now, however, it seems the ready-made meals are only served in awful chain restaurants in my area...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are you sure that the article isn't confusing precooked meals with the sous-vide cooking method that has become extrememly popular?